Thursday, November 14, 2013

W's for Jesus

So, tonight, (thankfully former) President W is speaking before the "let's all convert the Jews to Jesus" conference in Texas.  Rachel Maddow has been covering this since the story broke last week.

Without belaboring the 'peculiarities' of this group's beliefs, I, too, am trying to figure out his motivation, and it comes down to the following possibilities:

1)  He doesn't really believe in the group's stated goals, but the money is too good to pass up.

2) He does believe in the group's stated goals, and the money is just a nice bonus.

3) He does believe in the group's stated goals, and the money is totally irrelevant.

And now, my choice for most-believable explanation:

4)  It doesn't matter whether he believes in converting Jews or not.  He made up his mind to do this gig, and The Decider does not ever change his mind.

By the way, I hereby award Rachel Maddow's writers the 'Best Use of Yiddish Today' prize, for accompanying this story with a slide with the words 'Meshugganah Accomplished'.

Well done.  

Monday, November 04, 2013

science (and dread) in everyday life

Karen has a small but impressive collection of antique salt-and-pepper shakers.  One had such an encrustation of salt on its inside that the holes were mostly blocked.  She had been soaking it in water for a couple of days, but the salt remained.

This morning, she asked me if I could get the salt layer removed.  "Easy," I said, "just add some vinegar to the water."  I did so and, an hour later, the salt is mostly gone.

The NY State Board of Regents (funded by the 1960's taxpayers of Elmira, New York) insisted that my Liberal education include basic chemistry. Sodium chloride is a base.  Lower the ph with an acid (acetic, in this case) and the base commences to dissolve.

My moment of self-congratulation was short-lived, as I immediately thought of the escalating acidification of our (one-and-only) planet's oceans.  Calcium carbonate cannot stand up to Carbon dioxide - same principal.  Goodbye shell-fish, coral, and the web of Life that depends on these.

Nothing will be done - we will collectively just let it happen, and try not to think about our grand-children looking at us with the same incredulity as us looking back on World War I and the Spanish Inquisition (to name but two).

Applied Science - how easy to do on the micro level - not so easy on the macro.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I've heard this story before

As a computer guy, I have some understanding of the incredible complexity of the Federal Exchange, and a lot of sympathy for the developers charged with the task of building the plumbing to support real-time connections with multiple insurance company databases (many probably having home-grown systems, each with its own unique protocol for querying data and pulling it across the various firewalls).

This is what each State-run Exchange has to do, for the Insurance providers in that State.  Now multiply that complexity by 36 (the number of States who said "we don't want to build our own Exchange - let the Feds do it").

It's no wonder that many of the State Exchanges are working quite well, while the Federal Exchange is 'challenged'.  However (not surprisingly), I have a couple of thoughts on the current situation:

1)  The lead-in on NPR this morning, to the segment covering the controversy, stated something like: "There are hearings today in Washington into how the White House bungled the implementation."  Um, maybe the "White House" might have been able to devote more time to overseeing the roll-out if it hadn't been preoccupied during most of September in dealing with a group of wacko Republican representatives (sic) determined to shut down the friggin' government. Just sayin'.

2)  And here is where I do put some blame on the "White House", if this report is true.  It appears there was a late-in-the-game spec change, where, contrary to the original design (which would let people browse options without having to first create an account, like you can browse Amazon before signing in to buy), it was decided that, no, people will have to register BEFORE being able to browse, instantly creating a massive bottle-neck right at the beginning of the entire process.

How many times have we developers seen this?  Hint: over and over and over, and it seldom has a happy ending.

Once a design for a complicated system is agreed on, and work commences on all the components, changing a fundamental step almost always leads to a disaster down the line. Sometimes a critical design flaw is detected and you have no choice.  But, if it's not a no-choice-we-MUST-change-that situation, they never learn.

If, indeed, someone in the Administration dictated to the developers that this change HAD to happen, after considerable work had already been done, someone on the construction team HAD to reply, "well, if you insist on this change, keep in mind that it jeopardizes the entire schedule."  And, if some WH individual then said "I don't care, change it", that person should be the scapegoat for the current witch-hunt.

As a developer, I say "confiscate his/her suit and tie in public".

As a developer, who would like to see the ACA implementation succeed, I say to America "cool it, and let the developers do whatever triage is necessary to get it working".  This is a long-game project.  Problems in the first 2 months are going to be forgotten once it's running smoothly and many people find, to their astonishment, that they are able to buy health insurance for the first time in their lives.

My advice to people desperate for Health insurance - call the damn 800 number and talk to a facilitator, instead of venting your anger at your computer.

To the Republicans, I say, "since you have no interest in contributing to the program's success (a program, by the way, which originated in YOUR conservative Think Tanks many years ago), please STFU and get out of the way".  Yes, I know, never happen.

'Nuff said.

Monday, September 23, 2013

fire 'em all

Of course Chuck Todd should be retired, for both his frustrating, lazy-ass reporting and his insufferable smugness.  I think we all can agree about that.

My beef, this morning, is with NPR, to which I have been a loyal listener and supporter since its birth around the time of the Watergate hearings.

At the top of the hour today, NPR mentioned that Obama spoke this weekend at a memorial service for the recent DC mass shooting.  The reporter hastened to add that this was in the face of the recall of Colorado lawmakers who had favored some modest curbs on gun accessibility, then quickly moved on.

Thank you, we have been reminded that the National mood will not tolerate any changes in gun laws.

If you google 'colorado gun recall' you'll see dozens of stories that use phrases like 'big victory for the NRA' and 'loud and clear message', etc.  I had to dig before I found this page, which tells you that John Morse lost by 319 votes, with less than 22% of eligible voters showing up.  Nice work, Colorado.

Yes, I know only the final tally ultimately matters, but a little perspective, due diligence, and very little effort among reporters might have lessened the false message of  'big victory' and 'loud and clear message'.

Which brings me to Cokie Roberts.

Cokie's voice has been in my ears for decades. During her glib summary this morning of the current preposterous House Republican chicanery, she said (paraphrasing) 'the Republican-passed bill reflects polls showing that the majority of Americans do oppose Obamacare.'

Why, oh why, did she not take a moment to add 'of course, there is a calculated, overwhelming lack of public understanding about what Obamacare actually is, and when people are asked about specific actual provisions of the law, polling is always positive.'

But no.  In the current world of NPR News, the pulse of Americans is definitively against toughening access to guns and the (sic) government takeover of health care.

At every opportunity to provide perspective and counter the determination of the Wreckers (a handy term originally used in the old Soviet Union), the opportunity quickly passes. It's the way 'news' is handled in all the highly-visible outlets - the Corporate view must not be challenged.

Following these few minutes of news 'summary' (i.e. castration), NPR Morning Edition then spent the majority of the half-hour on a detailed story concerning the science advisor to the 'Big Bang Theory', with interviews, audio clips, and many details reflecting the thorough reporting that went into this story, which closed out the half-hour with this final stab into my heart: 'This is NPR News'.

Fire them all.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

then and now

In the summer of 1967, I traveled to Europe with a group of students from my home town.  As I look back on the experience, I've often wondered what those Europeans made of us well-fed, naive tourists, a mere 20 years after they had experienced horrendous destruction and death.

Here is the group, at the Chemung County airport prior to departure. That's me on the left - yes, people back then actually wore coats and ties on airplanes.

One of the nice features of the program was that we stayed with families in 4 places: England, Austria, Denmark, and Holland.  For the Austrian home-stay, we were in a tiny village in the country.

The home I stayed with had pigs and chickens in the courtyard, a privy rather than plumbing, and a nice family, who served me sausage, mustard-from-a-tube, and their own white wine.  They spoke little English and my German was, at best, rudimentary.  I do remember sitting in their kitchen watching the news from Vietnam, and all agreeing that it was a terrible thing.

I took some slides of the mother and father, a son, and the house.  I was there for maybe 4 days, then we were off to Vienna, then Prague, then Berlin, but that's another story.

Decades have passed.

Now Karen and I are planning a Fall trip that will take us back to Prague and down the Danube from Passau, Germany to Vienna.  I pulled out my old slides and, for the first time in many years, remembered much about that time in Austria.  After a few days, I was able to remember the name of the teeny hamlet where we stayed (Elsarn), and found it on Google Maps.  Turns out that, on the final night of the bike tour, before heading to Vienna, we will be staying about 20 km from Elsarn.

I then tried to remember the name of the family and, after a couple of days, I remembered.  I asked Google if anyone with that name was still in that village, and up popped a name and an address - I could see it was the same place.

I had some 4x6 prints made of my slides, wrote a letter in German (with the help of Google Translate) and sent it off, at the end of May.  I checked my mailbox frequently for several weeks, then gave up looking.

Last week, I received an email, in English, from the grandson of the people I stayed with.  He thanked me for the photos.  The grandparents are long dead.  My photo from 1967:

We have exchanged several emails and it is possible that I may be able to see his father, now 77 and speaks no English, when we are in the neighborhood in October. I don't remember if I met his father that summer - he would have been 21 (I was 16).

Here is my 1967 photo of their courtyard - the little boy is the younger brother of the family, who I do remember.

The grandson just sent me a photo of the house as it is today.  As you can see, much is totally recognizable.

Time warp.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

feudalism, 2050

This piece got me thinking (always a dangerous prospect).  To summarize, a real-estate guy in Arizona sells 'protective services', which are actually highly-armed, paramilitary mercenaries, to private corporations.

This, of course, is a teeny bit less alarming than having official Government military forces protecting private assets, which, (not so) oddly, has happened before with the mine industry (but I digress). Let's leave aside the Fascism of government involvement for now.

No, I'm thinking about a future distopia, where wealthless masses and scarce food/water/power resources exist in a world of (largely-but-not-totally metaphorical) islands of (relatively) great wealth, luxuries, and comfort, protected by private armies of highly-armed mercenaries.

Isn't this where we are heading, with the astonishing stratification of society and wealth concentration?  Instead of today's 'gated communities', where an attendant has to push a button to open the gate for your car to enter, imagine confronting a line of 'defenders' making it clear that you are definitely not going to gain access to the resources of the privileged few behind the walls.

As long as the Master can pay/feed/arm the troops, it's a sure bet that the angry/hungry masses at the gates will be 'handled'. The upside of this is full-employment for ex-military guys who have the perfect skills for the task at hand. The downside is archetypal.

It sounds like Europe in 1100 to me.  Given the history of Greed, I expect this Wikipedia page will get bigger in time.

In other news, I have to get my car's AC fixed today - another heat wave coming next week.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

finally moving in the right direction, for electric cars?

A couple of years ago, I remember seeing a presentation on what seemed to me to be an outstanding model for dealing with the issue of electric car batteries.  It is simply this:

Since the battery is one of the most-expensive components, you do NOT include the price of the battery in the purchased car.  Instead, you subscribe to a battery-swap service (monthly-fee?).

Existing gas stations (who participate) would have Battery-swap stations, where you would simply drive in, present your credit card (or subscription card), and have a quick-as-a-bunny machine pull out your low battery and drop in a fresh one, and off you drive.

Obviously, there is a chicken-and-egg issue with setting up battery-swap stations around town (and along Interstate highways!!), but doesn't this make total sense?

If you elect to ALWAYS recharge your battery at home, you can cancel the swap-service after a while, but, given that everyone is already used to pulling into a gas station to get fuel, it's the same idea, and less hassle than plugging in at home.

In fact, the innovative folks at Tesla appear to be moving exactly there.   Cool, huh?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Spending a couple of days in Manzanita, with doggie. This morning, despite clouds and the promise of drizzle (a promise that was indeed fulfilled), we hiked up the north side of Neahkahnie Mountain, a trail that, amazingly, I have not ever done in the 36 years (!) I have been meandering thru these parts.

Here's the start of the hike, looking back towards Cape Falcon (all photos via cell-phone - sorry).

Big old trees and ferns along the trail.

A (more) open area nearing the top.

And, this afternoon, down on the busy, busy beach.
Back to Portland tomorrow.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

not dead yet

For context, see yesterday's post.

When Karen and Eric left Santa Cruz, around 2 this afternoon, Sylvia was mostly comatose, and everyone assumed that death was near. Tears were shed upon parting.

It's now 8:30 pm.  They arrived safely in the LA area, and are, at the moment, in the Burbank IKEA (Karen's idea, not Eric's), en route to the family house above the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

I called Santa Cruz and talked to Lola for a bit.  She said that Sylvia rallied later in the afternoon, and actually went for a (very) short walk in the neighborhood.  On speaker phone, I heard that familiar raspy voice, not at all weak, saying she was happy to hear from me.

I reminded her I am doing my once-a-month radio show next Sunday and she said she'd tune in (over the internet, as usual).  I asked if she had any requests and, without missing a beat, said firmly, "My Yiddishe Mame".

Sylvia Stolzberg: 102 years + 2 days, and continuing to amaze.

Just thought you should know.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

and that was the last time I saw him

July, 1983

My father had been in poor health for a couple of years, but as the summer of 1983 began, it was clear that he was dying.  After a number of operations and setbacks, he was moved into a room in the hospital where I had been born, 31 years earlier.  Arnot-Ogden Hospital - Elmira, New York.

I am now almost 62 - so these events happened exactly half a lifetime (so far) ago.

I had taken a leave of absence from my Portland job and flown home, to be with my mother and brother.  There was nothing to do but sit in the room, read, doze, wait.

I remember two sounds, as the hot, humid summer days dragged on and on.  My father did not talk.  Each breath, in and out, was accompanied by the sounds of air bubbling thru the fluid constantly filling his lungs.  The nurses drained fluid frequently, but it soon returned, as did the bubbling sound deep in his chest.

That sound was disturbing enough, but, every few hours, we were asked to leave the room while the nurses turned him in the bed.  His cries of pain reached the corridor - no words, just hurt.

There was nothing to be done.  Each night, we'd return to the house my parents built before they were married, and was the only home I knew until I left town for college, in Baltimore, at 17.  Each new morning, we'd dress, eat something, and drive to the hospital.

There were bad days, when we were certain that the end was near. I remember waking up one morning and saying to myself, 'this is the day my father dies'.  But he kept on, without any of us trying to fool ourselves with hope.

This went on for many, many weeks, but it was eventually clear that nothing would change soon.  It was time for me to fly back to Portland, to attend to matters there.

It was my father's 75th birthday, July 8th, when I was set to leave.  It was another bright, hot, humid Upstate New York summer morning.  I went up to his bed - his eyes were closed and his labored breathing regular.  I can't remember if I held his hand, but I said something like, "I always hoped you would be proud of me."

It was over a month later, in mid-August, when I got a phone call at work from a family friend who said, "you better come immediately."  I quickly made a plane reservation, left work and went home to pack.  As I was waiting for a taxi to arrive my phone rang again.  It was my boss's secretary who said, in a quiet voice, "we just got another call for you.  Your father died an hour ago."

It took me well over a year before I felt like a human being again, and 1984 turned out to have a couple of major, very positive, turning-points in my life, but that's another story.

Why am I having these memories today?

Karen's mother, the inestimable Sylvia Stolzberg, turned 102 yesterday.  Karen has been there, in Santa Cruz, since Tuesday, as Sylvia is now in that twilight period, 'between two worlds' as a friend put it.  Very weak now, she is at times conversant, joking, and eating - at other times simply sleeping, sleeping, sleeping.

Between two worlds.

Tomorrow, Karen and her brother are driving down to Pasadena, to check in with the workers who are doing some long-deferred painting and repairs at the now empty family home, where we have had so many joyous (and a couple of somber) family events over the decades.  It was originally planned that Sylvia would also be going to Pasadena for a big family birthday party, but that was cancelled when she began this last big decline, last week.

At some point tomorrow morning, Karen will have to say good-bye to Sylvia. My poor father, 30 years ago, showed no sign of knowing me the last time we were together.  I am hoping that Karen is able to have more.

Here is Sylvia, with a friend, last Thanksgiving:

Thursday, February 07, 2013

it might as well be Spring

There is actual sun in Portland today, and it's positively mild - what a change!  Time to get out in the yard and do a few long-postponed chores.

Here are two of our (several) vegetable plots that, last year, held tomatoes (very good year, both for Cherry and Early Girl), bok choi (very tasty - ate 'em all), purple bush beans (meh!), squashes (zucchini and summer - moderately successful), and a smattering of herbs, which were, sadly, mostly destroyed by the cats.

Patches are now freshly weeded and spread with a lot of our abundant compost.

I'm thinking potatoes in one of them (did potatoes in the back yard last year - pretty good yield), and more tomatoes and POLE beans (quite successful, a couple of years ago) in the other.

This afternoon, compost on the asparagus bed!

(By the way, if you click to enlarge the photo, and it was a perfectly-clear day, you'd see Mt. Hood in the spot above the neighbor's chimney.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

a tale of three phone companies

Well over a year ago, I noticed that I get a busy signal whenever I dial (from our home land-line) a phone number in the 503 area code, that is outside of the Portland area (i.e. Salem, the coast, etc).

Such numbers require a 1 prefix before the (503).  We rarely need to make such calls, but yesterday I needed to send a fax and remembered that it doesn't work. I sent the fax from Karen's office, but, when I got home, I thought I'd bite the bullet and try, again, to get it solved.

I worked on this a year ago, and Qwest directed me to Verizon (my long-distance provider, I learned), who insisted they were not the problem.

That prior sentence, of course, represents *hours* of phone-tree navigation, repeated explanations of the problem, transfers, long waits, and denials of responsibility.

Same thing yesterday.  Two Qwest reps, FIVE different numbers within Verizon, and an actual Verizon trouble-ticket that was quickly closed with a 'not our problem' comment.  I reopened the ticket and, late yesterday afternoon, a Verizon technician actually called me, to tell me it was not their problem.

However, Verizon directed me to Credo Long Distance, who we pay for long distance (remember, it was Qwest who said it was handled by Verizon).  The Credo guy was very helpful, had me do several tests (while talking on my cell phone), and ended up actually making a suggestion of a change to be made by Qwest.

Back on the phone to a Qwest customer service guy, who heard the whole story (yet again) and agreed that the suggested change was worth a try.  He transferred me to a technician who actually did it, and said to try everything again tomorrow morning.

We shall see.  In the meantime, I am thanking God today, that, with any luck, I will never have to call Verizon again.